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Bernie Sanders inauguration memes are liberal comfort food

The Biden era began with wholesome Bernie memes.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presence at President Joe Biden’s inauguration did more than signal his support of Biden after a hard-fought 2020 presidential campaign. It proved that while Biden may have triumphed as the “relatable Everyman” from coast to coast, Bernie remains the “relatable Everyman” of the internet.

Clad in a bulky brown overcoat (immortalized in the “I Am Once Again Asking You” campaign video), Bernie spawned memes that proliferated across social media throughout Inauguration Day. He did so purely by showing up and being himself — looking kinda cranky, dressed-down, tired, and world-weary.

Basically, he encapsulated many Americans’ moods after the cascading horrors of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021.

Particularly compelling to meme-makers was one photo of Sanders sitting huddled on his socially distanced chair at Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, looking like he’d claimed his spot and was ready to tailgate for the foreseeable future.

(Tanglewood is a famous Massachusetts performing arts venue and festival, a favorite destination of classical music lovers and other arty types.)

Sanders’s pandemic-appropriate isolation, his patterned brown mittens, and his vaguely dissatisfied “old man yells at capitalism” expression — only partially visible above his surgical mask — combined to produce the meme of the day. Bernie sitting in his chair quickly came to stand in for the audience watching along at home.

Look, Sanders is a vocal progressive in comfortable clothing who’s fed up with centrist politics — just like so many of the people who tuned in to see Biden take the oath of office and become America’s 46th president. That same relatability had previously been a huge asset during the 2020 Democratic primary, when Sanders’s campaign resonated deeply with large communities of left-wing viewers.

Something about the image of Sanders earnestly asking for votes, Notting Hill-style, while clad in unassuming, unpretentious earth tones made the resulting “I am once again asking you” meme a hit with millennials, Gen Z-ers, and Extremely Online people across the political spectrum. Even if you didn’t agree with his politics, it was easy to relate to the sense of world-weariness he seemed to emanate, as he once again asked us for everything from beer to belly scratches.

By the time the primaries had concluded and Sanders was no longer on the campaign trail, he had started using the meme himself.

And after all the earlier hoopla around the last Bernie-wearing-coat meme, That Coat immediately turned heads when he showed up wearing it to Biden’s inauguration. So it was perhaps unsurprising that new memes began to emerge right away.

One eye-opening aspect of the Bernie inauguration memes was how clearly many of the meme-makers revealed their East Coast liberal or leftist roots.

Then again, Sanders is an East Coast democratic socialist, and the memes he spawns wouldn’t be as successful if we couldn’t picture him actually riding the subway, shopping at the local department store, or waiting on line.

The inauguration came just two weeks after the surreal, terrifying January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the memes seemed to project that Sanders wasn’t there to celebrate in a difficult moment, but to get the ritual over with and get back to work.

Just as they did throughout 2020, Bernie memes provided an Inauguration Day entry point for many Americans into a fraught political moment. There may be an extraordinary amount of uncertainty and anxiety around the near future, but Bernie and his reliable overcoat offer some much-needed familiarity, reassurance, and warmth (pun intended).

In other words, Bernie is once again asking us to relate to him. And once again, America’s Extremely Online citizens have answered the call.

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